Participants completed a creativity test, where they were given two minutes to come up with as many unusual uses for an object as they could. For example, they were given two minutes to come up with as many unusual uses as they could for a brick, and then another two minutes for a second object, such as a plastic cup.
They were then assigned to one of four conditions:
Condition one – participants were given a task for 12 minutes that required focused attention
Condition two – participants were given an undemanding task for 12 minutes that allowed their mind to wander
Condition three – participants were asked to sit quietly and rest for 12 minutes
Condition four – participants were given no time at all
Then the participants were given the same creativity test – they had two minutes per object to generate as many unusual uses as they could.
The participants who engaged in an undemanding task during the 12-minute period displayed significantly greater improvement in their creativity than any of the other conditions. They were coming up with more unique, creative uses for the object they’d seen before.
Doing almost nothing by carrying out an undemanding task (such as doodling, or aimless walking) frees up your brain for creative thinking.
If you want to read the full report on this study, you can find it here.